When ReadWrite last caught up with Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley in the company’s San Francisco office in late August, he proudly showed off a map of the city—a secret map, he said, that only Foursquare could build, from the data his users feed it by announcing their location to their friends.
On Wednesday afternoon, Foursquare rolled out a product built on that map—real-time recommendations for iPhone users of local businesses.
All Over The Map
It’s a careful, perhaps even overly cautious, extension of moves Foursquare has been making into anticipatory computing for some time. Earlier this year, Foursquare began testing local recommendations for Android users. And before that, it had subtly introduced check-in recommendations in its apps with a blue bar—taking a guess at where users were based on the accumulation of location data it’s built.
That guesswork is a product of Foursquare’s map, which adjusts itself over the course of the day to tie a user’s physical location to a nearby business. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially in dense cities and malls. In locales where businesses are stacked on top of each other, it’s not a simple matter of latitude and longitude.
The new recommendation feature also mines users’ tips about local businesses for the specifics of a recommendation—for example, a specific sushi roll to order at a Japanese restaurant.
Ringing The Cash Register
Where this gets interesting is the money-making potential. By beginning to guide users to businesses without waiting for them to search, Foursquare no longer just measures intent—it can shape it. And that could be lucrative for Foursquare’s still-nascent advertising business.
Alternatively, it could simply make Foursquare a more attractive acquisition for the likes of Apple or Google—or even PayPal, as ReadWrite has suggested. Services like Google Now and Siri are raising mobile users’ expectations: They are increasingly unwilling to trudge through long lists of search results, and instead just want the right answer.
It’s a high-stakes bet for Foursquare, which raised $41 million in debt financing earlier this year, and is hence under pressure to turn its location app into a big business. But this latest move suggests Crowley has a map to his destination. Now he just has to get his company there.